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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gutsy Women

I’ve been doing a lot of research on this subject. I belong to a speaking group and it’s my turn next week and I’ve been writing my speech. Gutsy women are so numerous and you could easily do a speech on each one. Reading about them makes me doubly proud to be female. I finally decided to limit the speech to the woman’s lib movement. Not that it was easy to limit it even then. Talk about women to admire! Mary Wollstonecraft got the ball rolling in 1792 with her treatise, The Vindication of the Rights of Women. Mary herself was interesting, since she advocated free love and only married her daughter’s father the day before her death. The daughter incidentally, another Mary, was the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, a distinguished poet. This Mary is best known as the author of Frankenstein. It’s hard now to believe the storm the Vindication treatise caused. But it was not until a century later American women took up the challenge. In colonial times women had the right to vote and were fairly independent, since then their labor was badly needed. But that all changed as the states wrote their own constitutions and laws were spelled out giving the vote to white and free males. Women were denied the right to trial by jury, or to control their own property, inheritance, or children. Even if they earned money the salary belonged to the men. There was no such thing as divorce and a husband could chastise his wife any way he chose, including severe beatings. The Declaration of Independence, limiting its rights to free males, was just the opposite for women. Things picked up a little when votes were needed for the anti-slavery movement, as well as temperance. Women learned to organize, write for publication, and speak. But although the feminist movement was growing ever stronger, slavery took the front seat. Promised further action if they helped now, women pitched in. Without them the Thirteenth amendment might well have foundered for years. But when the amendment was passed, the men they counted on to further the cause for women still said it was too soon for women to have the vote. An antislavery meeting was held in London in 1840. Many of the men did not want to seat the women. The clergy, quite often vehemently against women’s rights, declared the subjection of women to men was God’s will, and quoted from the bible to prove it. Finally it was decided the women could attend, but only listen from the balcony and not speak. The women stayed in the balcony and listened, but met in the boarding houses afterwards and started to band together. Today this convention is remembered not for its anti-slavery stand, but as the spark that united the women’s suffrage movement. The lives of the individual leaders of the movement are fascinating. Elizabeth Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan Anthony are among the most remarkable. I ran across a book ‘The Ladies of Seneca Falls, by Miriam Gurko that kept me in thrall. The women had been promised support for their cause if they fought for the Union and helped pass the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery. But when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed it proposed to offer all citizens the right to vote, but it specified MALE citizens. There was still a long, hard fight ahead for the ladies. The Nineteenth Amendment granted women suffrage in 1920, almost 60 years after freeing the slaves. For the first time women were guaranteed the right to vote, to own property, to help determine their own fates and those of their children. Susan B. Anthony died when she was 86, still urging women to do more than vote, to develop their own worth and dignity. Her last words were ‘failure is impossible.’ It’s not hard to tie all this into our lives as modern writers. We’d all have been tarred and feathered for even the first page of most of our delightfully sexy books. We’d probably never had the chance to write them. Let’s say a heartfelt thanks to the women who fought our battles for so many years. We owe them much. You can find my books, each with a gutsy woman or two at Ellora’s Cave, the Druid series and first four books of the Mage series. Passion in Print Press, For Love is New, Quest for Magic, and coming soon, Victoria’s Visions, Seducing Simon, and Twice the Love.

9 comments:

Paris said...

Jean,
I think we sometimes forget just how daunting this particular battle has been. Thanks for the wonderful post!

Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Jean. It always saddens me when women either compete with each other or denigrate each other - and that happens all too often from high school on. We should be forming a tight club (think the 'old boys club') and facing the world as a cohesive force. No one can argue with our numbers, and we could use them to turn a lot of discriminatory crap around.

jean hart stewart said...

Thanks Paris and Tina. The post should have come out with separations into paragraphs, but somehow it didn't. Sheeesh.

R. Ann Siracusa said...

Jean, I enjoyed your article. About twenty years ago, I attended a conference on a similar topic. The speaker, a female professor of history at UC Riverside, cited the name and story of a woman who performed the same function in the Revolutionary War as Paul Revere. I forgot the woman's name, and when I tried to find it again (I asked at several museums and historical societies in Boston), no one had ever heard of her. Apparently, this "gusty" woman [and no doubt many more] has been swept from history.

jean hart stewart said...

Thanks, Ann. I thoroughly enjoy the research for this. I've heard of that woman, and I know there were lots of women who disguised themselves as soldiers in the Civil War. They were fighting for women's rights in their own way, I believe.

Katalina Leon said...

Great post Jean and a wonderful reminder of how powerful women can be.
XXOO Kat

jean hart stewart said...

Thanks, Kat. I learned a lot doing the research for this...Jean

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks for the valuable information, Jean. We modern women tend to forget what the women before us endured so we could enjoy the freedom and equality we do now. Although, we don't enjoy as much equality as we should. We are still not there yet.

jean hart stewart said...

Yep, we still have to fight. A certain type of man will never get it!

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